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Kyu, The Unknown, Book 1 - The Coming of Dis

CHAPTER 1

 

Kyu had always known the shadow that hid his face; as far as he could tell, it had been conceived along with the rest of him.


The face was there, even though the mirror could not show it. Kyu ran his hand over his eyes, nose, and mouth, careful not to slice the skin open with his claws. The shadow did not extend beyond his face. The rest of his head was visible. Lanky black strands of hair fell to his muscled shoulders. He could see his ears underneath the hair, and his neck was visible. His body, hard and slim, flexed with ease beneath the gray cotton shirt and black shorts. His legs were balanced and moved with grace.


His face, though, from chin to forehead, was cast in shadow.


Kyu flexed his clawed hands and felt the power beneath the thick skin. The claws could shear through flesh, and had.


He looked away from the mirror, tamping down the urge to send a hard fist through it. The inner maelstrom had to be coiled and restrained. It would be released in due time.


The door opened, breaking Kyu’s self-reflection. The man who walked in was huge, six feet five inches in height with a solid three hundred and fifty pound body. Kyu marveled that gravity had yet to win its battle with this man, who was dressed in a vulgar bright yellow suit, crafted to order by a high-end tailor in the upmarket section of Cyphus.


The man ran a hand across his bald head. Each chubby finger shone with diamonds and gold. “Syrra’s balls, Kyu, this is a dressing room, yet here you are; undressed, with your match coming up soon.”


“My match isn’t for another half hour, Yuv. It takes about five minutes to put my stupid outfit on.”


“Stupid outfit?” M.C. Yuv picked up a black leather cuirass; the torso-protecting armor had been boiled to give it a hard veneer without taking away from its flexibility. A number of slashes crisscrossed the material. What was left of a gaudy design in red thread hung in tatters. “How many times has this ‘stupid’ outfit saved you?”


Never, Kyu thought, but he said nothing and turned away.


Yuv chuckled and put the cuirass down. “Lucky for you that you’re as good as you are. Lucky for me, too, I admit. We have a wonderful thing going here. You’re the best fighter in the business, but don’t go thinking you’re immortal.”


A muted roar rumbled through the room.


“That match ended quickly.” Yuv’s head turned toward the arena. “Get dressed, Kyu. You may be going out there earlier than scheduled.”


“It’ll take the crew some time to clean everything up.”


The dressing room door opened. “Kyu, The Unknown in ten,” a voice said, and the door closed.


Yuv arched an eyebrow. “You were saying?”


Kyu shook his head. He slipped on his greaves and vambraces, made of the same hard leather as the cuirass, which he pulled over his head. Yuv helped him buckle it tight at his side. Finally, Kyu put on a plain leather helmet and buckled it under his chin.


“When are you going to get a new helmet? That one looks so… blah.”


“It meets the requirements of the Arena Commission.” Kyu double-checked each strap and buckle. “It’s good enough.”


“You’re famous throughout the Territories, Kyu.You need to push your brand. Corporations fall all over themselves to sponsor you. You make a ton of money.”


“And so do you.”


Yuv spread his arms in a well, of course gesture.


“I don’t want to use my ‘brand’, as you call it, to advertise someone else’s product,” Kyu said.


Yuv frowned and looked at his watch. “We’ll talk about this later. We have to get to your match.”


“What if I’m not around to talk to later? You seem to take an awful lot for granted.”


Yuv gave him an incredulous look. “Don’t say shit like that.”


Kyu chuckled and pulled his sword from its scabbard. The tempered steel shone in the overhead lights. The grip, wrapped with wire to prevent slippage, protruded from a pewter-colored guard and ended in a round bronze pommel.


With the sword came a calmness that settled over Kyu, along with a heightened awareness of everything around him. His senses attained a clarity that picked up individual dust motes drifting through the air and the sound of oxygen being heaved into Yuv’s laboring lungs. Beneath that, a thick, dark pool of fury waited.


He looked to Yuv. “Let’s go.”


Yuv led the way through corridors strewn with cables and technical gear for the televised broadcast. Arena workers greeted Kyu with shouts: “You’ve got this one, Kyu!” “Kick his ass, Kyu!” “I got twenty marks on you, Kyu!”


They came to a pair of thick double doors. Behind them, Kyu heard the low growl of thousands of people. The muffled voice of the match announcer introduced his opponent for the night. Kyu heard scattered applause and quite a few boos.


Yuv pulled out a massive cigar and lit it. Pungent blue smoke drifted Kyu’s way.


“Must you, Yuv?”


“It’s my trademark. The public expects it of me.”


Kyu coughed. “Those fucking things will kill me faster than anyone I face out there.”


Yuv smiled and turned to the doors.


The announcer’s voice rose in pitch. The reverberation increased as the crowd’s excitement grew.


With a hiss of pneumatics, the doors swung open. The mob’s roar buffeted Kyu and Yuv. Bright lights and television cameras swung toward them, and they entered the maw of Cyphus Arena.


The announcer had to scream to be heard. “And here he is: Kyu, The Unknown!”


The sudden acclaim was deafening. Yuv led the way down the inclined ramp. His teeth held his burning cigar as he waved his bejeweled hand to the cheering crowd. Arms reached out from between the steel rails, trying for a quick touch. The smell of fried food and beer was thick. Higher up were the luxury suites, where those who were willing to pay five thousand marks or more were treated to an unimpeded view of the arena, gourmet food, top-notch liquor, and, upon request and an additional one thousand mark charge, a professional ‘escort’, either female or male, with whom to cap off the evening.


Twenty feet above the arena floor, an enclosed control booth hung from the ceiling. A man, the arena’s master controller, gave his monitors and control board a quick check before the match. Beneath the control booth long, mantis-like metal rods were folded up against a revolving base. Some of the tubes were capped with blades. Others were capped with more interesting items. The master controller tested the base and jointed rods for ease of movement, and he made sure what was waiting under the arena floor would have no deployment issues. Once he was done, he informed the arena director, in a back room with broadcasting technicians, that everything was a go.


Kyu ignored all of this. He held his sword loosely at his side as he approached the door to the arena proper, held open by an employee. The door was acrylic glass, an inch thick, part of the ten-foot wall that surrounded the oval arena, for protection of fans and fighters both. The floor of was ribbed so the combatants could retain traction without slipping, white to show the blood to good effect, and plastic for ease of cleaning after each match. Grated grooves ran excessive blood spillage to hidden drains.


Kyu’s opponent for the night stood in the middle of the arena. He was Talgourgese, like Kyu, with the almond-shaped eyes and honey-tinged skin common to those of the Territory. He looked thin, but Kyu saw the wiry muscles coiled in his arms and legs. His leather armor was a bright yellow. Like Kyu, he had no shield; very few fighters used them anymore. He wore leather gauntlets on his hands, with metal-spiked knuckles. He held a sword, with a blade fractionally longer and thinner than Kyu’s own.


“See you after the match,” Yuv said.


Kyu briefly wondered what his opponent’s name was. Then he entered through the open door, which was closed and locked behind him. The roar of the crowd increased. Kyu pushed all distraction aside as he opened his mind and allowed his consciousness to expand and flood through his body. Time slowed down. Kyu looked into his opponent’s brown eyes; he saw the discomfort there as the man searched for his face. Would fear would cripple this opponent, as it had others.


The man’s eyes cleared and focused. He spaced his feet apart for balance. This wouldn’t be an easy kill. The crowd would get their money’s worth.


Giant screens, hung from the ceiling, allowed those in the upper-level seats a close view of the match. Right now they flashed numbers, counting down from ten.


5…4…3…2…1!


A klaxon sounded. The match was on.


Immediately a long, curved blade, attached to one of the jointed rods, swooped down and sliced through the air between Kyu and his opponent moments before they closed in. Kyu had expected it. His opponent appeared momentarily startled, but recovered quickly then advanced.

The fighter danced on the balls of his feet, jabbing quickly with his sword to test Kyu’s defenses. Kyu ignored these attempts to provoke him into action and circled along with his opponent.


The man feinted with a backhanded slash and threw a punch at Kyu’s face. Kyu turned his head just before the metal spikes tore open his cheek. He tried to grab the man’s wrist but the fighter danced out of reach.


The crowd screamed for blood. The black pool of fury within Kyu rose, but he forced himself to remain patient.


The fighter, now with more confidence, closed in again. His sword swung up and came down in a flashing arc. Kyu caught the blade on his cross guard and lashed out with the claws on his left hand, tearing open three long, red gouges in the soft skin of the fighter’s sword arm.

Blood splattered on the white floor. The crowd roared. The fighter hissed and backed away, holding his arm to his side.


Kyu pressed his advantage. The fighter stood ready, his face contorted. Kyu raised his sword. As the man prepared to defend the strike. Kyu kicked him in the torso. The fighter hit the acrylic glass with his back, splashing it with blood. Faces on the other side screamed with delight.

Kyu moved in, poised to strike the final blow. A deep vibration rattled his feet. He jumped back. A spinning circular saw cut through where, seconds ago, he had been standing. Rising up to five feet, the saw whined with seeming frustration at having missed its target then settled back beneath the floor.


A flicker of motion caught Kyu’s eye. He raised his sword in time to block a blow from his opponent, but the motion caused Kyu to lose his balance. He staggered back, trying to regain solid footing. The fighter advanced and rained down blows on Kyu, preventing him from finding his center of gravity. It was all he could do to keep from falling over.


Something fast and metallic flashed through the arena lights above them. Kyu fell on his back and hoped he wasn’t on another slot. The fighter above him adjusted his sword grip for a downward thrust.


A gleaming war hammer, its head blunt on one end and spiked on the other, whistled through the air. The fighter leaned back as the bludgeoning end swished by where his upper torso had been. The hammer lifted up back to the control base.


The fighter smiled and moved in for the kill. Kyu made no attempt to get away. Taking careful aim at Kyu’s exposed throat, the fighter plunged down with his sword. He did not notice as the hammer, on a pendulum rod, made its return trip, this time with the spiked end out front.

The metal spike punched through the fighter’s upper arm, tearing through flesh and propelling him across the arena floor. His sword went skittering over the white plastic. He howled as blood pumped from the ragged hole. The crowd roared; those in the front rows banged their fists against the acrylic glass.


Kyu got to his feet then advanced on his fallen opponent. The fighter’s dark red blood stood out against his yellow armor. He held his hand over the hole in his arm, but the blood gushed between his fingers and collected in the channels that led to the drains.


The fighter looked in desperation for his sword. Kyu kicked it out of reach. He looked at Kyu with eyes alight with hatred and resignation.


“Fucking do it,” he hissed at Kyu. “Make it quick.”


Kyu saluted the fighter to show his respect. The crowd applauded in appreciation. Kyu tapped into his fury, absorbing just enough to do what was needed, and raised his sword for the killing stroke.


He hesitated, just for an instant.


The blade came down and severed the fighter’s head from his body. Blood spurted across the white floor until the heart stopped beating.

Fifteen thousand voices chanted one word: Kyu! Kyu! Kyu!


The acclaim rang hollow in his ears.

 

#

 

Kyu stepped out of the shower and dried himself. He made sure the underneath of his claws were free of blood, then he stepped back into the dressing room and got himself dressed.


The sword, which Kyu had cleaned before he had taken the shower, hung within its scabbard on a wall peg. Arena weapons maintenance would inspect it afterward, checking for nicks to be buffed out and making sure there were no hidden faults within the steel.


He was buttoning up his shirt when Yuv entered. His manager was flush with triumph.


“Great match, Kyu! I knew that slacker didn’t have a chance.”


Kyu ignored the praise. Yuv was always free with praise when his wallet got fatter.


“It was a good purse tonight, Kyu. You got two hundred and fifty thousand marks; not bad for less than five minutes work.”


“And how much of that went into your bank account?” Kyu asked as he finished with the last button.


“My usual twenty percent, just like our contract says.”


Right, Kyu thought, twenty percent from the official purse… plus whatever Yuv was able to skim from television rights and sponsors – money Kyu never saw.


Yuv made no move to leave. Kyu was instantly on his guard.


“What is it, Yuv?”


Yuv smiled. “Can’t you count, Kyu?”


“Get to the point.” Kyu was in no mood to play games. All he wanted was some beer, and maybe a groupie for dessert.


“Tonight was your one hundredth win in the arena. You are now alone in second place in total wins, second only to your buddy Eulos Baak. If we knew your age, we could claim you are the youngest to reach this mark.”


“So bake me a cake. Is that all?”


“Kyu, Kyu, Kyu.” Yuv shook his head in mock frustration. “No one handles themselves better inside the arena than you, but outside? Well, you’re pretty fucking clueless. You make no effort to promote yourself, but that’s fine, because this is where I earn my twenty percent. This is why you signed on with me.”


Kyu groaned. He knew the beer and groupie were going to have to wait. “What do I have to do?”


“We’re going to the press room, where Naid Iodyne will interview you for TNC.”


“An interview? Syrra’s balls, Yuv, what am I going to say? ‘He tried to kill me, I killed him instead, the end’? Why don’t you give it? You enjoy that sort of thing, anyway.”


“Don’t worry. I’ll be there.” Yuv patted Kyu’s shoulder with a sweaty hand. “I’ll handle the tough questions, but it’s you they want. Are you done dressing? Comb your hair and let’s go.”

 

#

 

“Good evening, everybody! This is Naid Iodyne from the Territories News Center, here in Cyphus Arena. With me are Kyu, The Unknown and his manager, M.C. Yuv. Tonight saw the one hundredth win in Kyu, The Unknown’s phenomenal career. How do you feel about this impressive milestone, Kyu?”


Kyu sat in an uncomfortable chair as a bright camera light burned into his gritty eyes. Naid Iodyne was an Ormnian, with long black hair, olive skin, and wide, dark eyes. She had a beauty that was both natural and carefully prepared for television work, yet as professional as she was, Kyu noted unease in her eyes as she tried, and failed, to discern features behind the darkness that covered his face.


Yuv, standing behind him, gave him a none-too-subtle nudge to answer the question.


“Ah, okay, I guess.” Kyu immediately felt like an idiot. For the thousandth time, he silently cursed Yuv for arranging this interview.


Naid Iodyne smiled mechanically and continued. “How would you describe your fight tonight?”


“Ah, my opponent,” Kyu turned to Yuv. “What was his name?”


Yuv quickly broke into the interview. “This has been a strenuous night for my man. He means no disrespect to the family and friends of Tonti Jeran. Tonti was a worthy adversary for Kyu, The Unknown. Everyone who knew him should be proud.”


Worthy adversary? Kyu thought. Ten minutes ago you were calling him a slacker.


“I’m sure no disrespect was intended,” Naid replied smoothly. “So, Kyu, how does it feel to be one of only two people in all of arena fighting history to amass one hundred wins?”


“It feels okay,” Kyu said. “I wasn’t really counting, though.”


Yuv broke in again. “What he means is that he’s honored to be placed in the same category as the legendary Eulos Baak, and as Baak trained my man, and is his friend, is it any surprise Kyu has risen to this pinnacle so quickly? I have no doubt that Kyu, The Unknown will not only tie Baak’s record of one hundred and twenty-six wins, but surpass it.”


Naid directed her next question to Yuv. “There aren’t many fighters who come close to Kyu, The Unknown’s win record. Any ideas as to who his next opponent might be?”


Kyu sat back and remained quiet. The interview had swung from him to Yuv. They all did.


“Well, Naid,” Yuv said, warming up. “A few names do come to mind. Havla Cort has over fifty wins, as does Pier Shoolo. Of course, it would be up to the Arena Commission to get everything together moneywise…”


Kyu tuned out the rest of the interview. He had heard it all before. He wondered if there was still time to squeeze in some beers and a groupie after Yuv finally let him go.

 

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